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The Top 3 Speed Reading Techniques

The Top 3 Speed Reading Techniques

A majority of us read at a rate of about 200-400 words per minute. A minority of others known as speed readers can hit around a whopping 1000-1800 words per minute!

Speed reading is not something that you are born with. It is a skill that one can develop similar to learning how to skateboard or to draw better. Some people take to it more naturally than others, but most every one can do it with understanding and practice.

Breaking down the process of reading

Before we can understand speed reading, we need to understand what reading is and how we comprehend words normally. 

There's a difference between reading purely for pleasure, and reading to learn. I'm sure you don't curl up on the couch with a hot cup of tea and open up your latest Additional Mathematics Syllabus to read, right? When you are reading to study, the reading becomes a kind of mechanical process. It requires a whole lot more brain power to take in the unfamiliar concepts and process them in your head. 

When you look at a word or a sentence, this is called a "fixation", and it takes about 0.25 seconds on average to happen before you move your eye to the next several words. The movement of your eye to the next group of words is called a "saccade", and it takes up to around 0.1 seconds to happen on average.

After one or two fixations and saccades occur, you pause to comprehend the sentence you just looked at. This takes around 0.4 seconds on average. When you combine all these fixations, saccades and pausing together, you end up with a reading rate of around 200 to 400 words per minute. 

How can you shorten this reading time?

Speed readers shorten how long they fixate on a word. By cutting down on the extra 0.25 seconds, they end up reading faster than the 0.4 seconds that the majority of us read at.

Here are 3 type of speed reading methods:

1. Meta Guiding 

One of the oldest speed reading techniques, meta guiding is when you use your finger, or a guiding tool like a pen or a pointer, to guide your eyes to specific words. The visual guiding of the eyes allow them to move faster along the words in a passage. 

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How this works is the visual guidance speeds up your visual cortex and increases your visual span to take in the whole line instead of one word at a time. This increased visual can even help in imprinted what you read into your subconsciousness.

However, in order for this method to work, you will need to train your eyes to view each word with emphasis without regressing. Regressing is what happens when your eyes go forward two or three words and then go back. Regressing usually happens so quickly that we don't even realised we have done it. So, it will take much practice to be able to increase your visual span to view words with emphasis, and at the same time without regressing.

2. Rapid Serial Visual Presentation (RSVP)

This method is used by most of the recent digital speed reading systems. Single words will flash across the screen so you end up concentrating on one word at a time. You start off with a reading speed that is comfortable, and slowly speed up how fast the display flashes you words as you get used to the speed.

You can find out your current comfortable reading speed here, and try increasing it over time with practice. 

Personally, this method has completely transformed the way I read. Before RSVP, I would almost always lose focus while reading long articles. Since I started training myself, not only was I devouring articles daily, I have also started to chip away at the mountain of non-fiction books that I had hoped to finish in months instead of years. 

Pro tips: RSVP technology takes a bit of adjustment, so start off slow and give your eyes plenty of rest in between heavy readings.

3. Skimming

Skimming is a practice whereby you glance through the words of a page to find the important parts to read - or the "meat". Most can agree that writers pad the important points with filler words. Fillers words can be analogies to explain a point better, or sentences that build up to their final point. 

Instead of the earlier two methods which teaches you to read faster, this method is teaching you to learning what parts you can skip over instead. 

By skimming, you are training your eye to sift through the filler words quicker so as to glean the main gist of what you are reading. You look for and seize upon words that appear to give the main meaning. Skimming occurs at 3-4 times the normal reading speed, which also means that you are not fully comprehending everything that you are skimming.

For this reason, I would only recommend skimming for when time is short or when you need to understand the general ideas but not the full details of an article or book.

The Creator of the Sandwich is not who we think it is

The Creator of the Sandwich is not who we think it is

I remember as a kid, my mother would make a sandwich and wrap it in saran wrap for me to pack to primary school as lunch. It would always be either one of two recipes - Ham & Cheese, or Egg Mayo. As I grew older, this nostalgic food brought about my love affair with Subway sandwiches and I make it a sort of tradition to source for interesting deli sandwiches whenever I travel overseas too.

The sandwich might be the perfect food: Easy to pack, open to anything a creative mind would like to stack it with, and it can be as simple or as elaborate as your mood allows. 

Or as elaborate as your hunger allows

Or as elaborate as your hunger allows

Ever wondered who invented the sandwich? I did. And I thought I knew the answer. But turned out, I was wrong!

The humble origin story

The sandwich as we know it was popularized in England in 1762. The popular story goes that John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, was a notorious gambler who so hated to leave the card table to eat that he instructed a servant to bring him some meat and bread. He then stacked the meat together between two pieces of bread to form an easy-to-eat meal, all without disrupting his beloved gambling sessions. 

The Earl enjoyed his meat and bread so much that he ate it constantly, and others in London's society circles soon started eating it too. And the concoction took on the Earl's name as The Sandwich.

Hence, the sandwich was born.

Or did it?

The great sandwich origin story may not have much truth to it after all. The story was first recorded in the early 1770s by a French writer named Pierre-Jean Grosley. The incident supposedly happened while Grosley was on a tour of London and he wrote it in his book 'Lourdes' (published in English as 'Tour to London').

But something smelt fishy. It was the idea that the Earl of Sandwich was a notorious gambler who would be up all night playing cards and not even stopping to have a meal that rang hollow. Historians pointed to the fact that the Earl was acting as a cabinet minister at the time - his duties would have left him little chance for all-night gambling sprees.

To crack another hole in that story, the Earl was also in the middle of revamping the entire British Naval Administration during that year. It was the type of job that would require a good night's sleep to be achieved.

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Another slightly more embarrassing piece of evidence came from biographers who stated that the Earl couldn't have had a gambling habit as he did not have much money to gamble with in the first place, as he was one of the lower class members of British upper class royalty in that time. 

So, who should we credit the sandwich to?

While the Earl of Sandwich is credited with giving the sandwich its name, the first description of what we actually known as a sandwich came 2,000 years ago.

The Jewish Rabbi Hillel the Elder was born in the first century BC in what was then known as Babylonia. He later traveled to Jerusalem to devote himself to the studying of the Torah, and at a time when Jewish law was still hotly debated, it was his interpretations of the Jewish text that became the most popular among believers then.

His work on a verse in the book of Exodus could be said to have been the birth of the sandwich. Exodus 12:8 states, “Eat the meat on this night, roasted over fire. With matzah and bitter herbs you shall eat it.” This verse was describing a traditional Passover meal made from placing the meat of a lamb, mixed nuts and herbs between two pieces of unleavened bread, and shared among family and friends.

At the time, this was called a korech, which comes from the Hebrew word meaning “to wrap.” While it’s not recorded how the ancient sandwich was put together, we can deduce that he stacked the meat and herbs and bound it all together with the bread.

Now we know the true origins of the sandwich, but I'm glad we ended up calling it the sandwich instead of the korech. Ordering a Teriyaki Chicken korech at Subway just doesn't roll off the tongue quite as nicely. 

Why "man-eating" piranhas are not as scary as you think

Why "man-eating" piranhas are not as scary as you think

Piranhas have never had the best of reputations. Read the word 'piranha' and the image of a swarm of blood-thirsty fishes with teeth like razor blades pop into mind. 

And it's also no thanks to movies like Piranha 3D, in which a pack of genetically-mutated piranhas escape a science lab and feast on unsuspecting swimmers. 

Devouring humans in full 3D glory.

Devouring humans in full 3D glory.

But are these freshwater fish the vicious water monsters they’re made out to be?

Not exactly.

Thanks, Teddy Roosevelt

The whole idea of the savage man-eating piranha started with author and one-time President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt, when he wrote about them in his 1914 book, Through the Brazilian Wilderness.

Roosevelt traveled to South America in 1913 after his presidency, where he encountered several different species of piranhas. Here's what he wrote about them in his book:

"They are the most ferocious fish in the world. Even the most formidable fish, the sharks or the barracudas, usually attack things smaller than themselves. But the piranhas habitually attack things much larger than themselves. They will snap a finger off a hand incautiously trailed in the water; they mutilate swimmers—in every river town in Paraguay there are men who have been thus mutilated; they will rend and devour alive any wounded man or beast; for blood in the water excites them to madness."

Roosevelt went on to recount watching a pack of piranhas devouring an entire cow. According to Mental Floss, the locals wanted to put on a show for Roosevelt. Days before he was to arrive, they used nets to block off a section of the Amazon river. Then, they caught piranhas from other parts of the river and tossed them into this makeshift aquarium. For days, they kept the fishes unfed. When Roosevelt finally rolled into town, the locals chucked a live cow into the water.

Kinda reminds you of this "Jurassic World" scene, doesn't it

Kinda reminds you of this "Jurassic World" scene, doesn't it

We can all guess what happened next. The starving piranhas wasted no time in sinking their teeth into their meal. Within minutes, the cow’s skeleton was all that was left. To Roosevelt’s eye, the water churning up and turning red, along with the screams of the poor cow, likely made it seemed like the piranhas were the perfect killing machine.

A fish that can eat a cow makes for a great story. Given that Roosevelt's book was also widely read, it’s easy to see how the piranha’s supervillain image soon spread. 

The major exaggeration

However, recent research on piranhas suggest that they are actually far from dangerous. In fact, they make for pretty harmless swimming companions too! 

Wildlife writer Richard Conniff was one of those keen to debunk the myth of the monstrous piranhas, and he went swimming with them in numerous occasions - by standing in the Amazon river fishing for them while they swam around him, to getting up close and personal with the supposedly deadly fish in a Dallas Aquarium in front of gawking onlookers.

He even once tried to prove the whole "piranhas stripping a man or cow to bones in mere minutes" theory by feeding chickens to a swarm of piranhas to see how long it would take them to devour the whole thing. It took an entire afternoon, and even at the end of the day, the chickens were mostly intact.

When Conniff spoke with fishermen who lived and worked alongside the notorious fishes, he found that those who lived nearby agreed that the reputation of the piranhas had been blown way out of proportion. Those who live there found that the piranhas are more scavengers than hunters.

Piranhas will stake out an area where fishermen go to gut their fishes, and scavenge on the cast-off leftovers as the fishermen toss them overboard. They are also known to lurk under the nesting grounds of birds, waiting for bird babies to unfortunately fall in the water. When humans get bit, they’re usually of living people falling into the water by accident while the piranhas are already in the midst of swarming a dead or scavenged kill.

Some are even vegetarians

Some species of piranhas are omnivorous, eating more seeds than meat. And some with the unflattering nickname given by the locals of "vegetarian piranhas" live solely on the diet of riverweeds.

They even have human-like teeth with flat edges that are used for crushing seeds and nuts.

SMILE!

SMILE!

Now that you know the piranhas' fearsome reputation is largely undeserved, we hope that tales of man-eating fishes remain only as scary tales to tell around a chalet BBQ pit instead of as facts. 

3 crucial things every newbie investor must know

3 crucial things every newbie investor must know

The hard truth is that, in Singapore, it's difficult to earn lots of money if you only park your monthly salary into the bank and expect it to grow. It will not grow much at all. 

The only way to make your money work for you is to invest in it, and similar to how learning never ends, becoming good at investing money is a never-ending journey. It goes without saying that you should have read up on, spoken with experienced investors, and have a relatively solid understanding of the investment products and strategies before getting into it.

But there are, however, 3 crucial things that every investing beginner must know before they even put money in. Here they are: 

1. Know your investment goals

If there's one thing that bears repeating in the investment world, it's this: What are you working towards? It's very important to have a goal, or goals, in mind to work towards in order to effectively figure out how to get there. 

When people talk about investment goals, most would assume that it's a number they are trying to get their money to climb up to and achieve. That's not false, but what a lot of people fail to realise is that investments take time. An investment goal should not only take the number into consideration, but the time factor as well.

Is your investment goal short term, or long? If it is short term, is the number you have in mind realistic based on the time frame allocated? What type of investment products will best help you hit your goal? These are all questions you have to ask yourself before starting on your investment journey. 

2. Know your risk appetite

When you hear the phrase 'risk appetite', it basically means how much are you willing to lose? A lot of times, you will hear (mostly from banks) that risk appetite is related to the types of investments you make. For example, buy more equities when you are in your twenties or thirties because you are at the stage of life where you can afford the volatility and higher risk. Buy more into fixed income products when you are older because they tend to be more stable (low risk) but at the same time also won't return as much.

Whatever it is, risk appetite is an extremely important factor that people don’t fully think about when they start out investing. That's because no one goes into investing their money immediately thinking they are going to lose money - that completely defeats the purpose of investing your money. But it is still important to consider because this will have repercussions further down the road in your investment journey. 

Take the time to read up on the various investment products and understand how they can work for or against you at various stages of your life. This will allow you to weigh your risk appetite properly and plan a long term strategy that will prevent you from losing money unnecessarily. 

3. Know your investment behaviour

Knowing your investment behaviour also starts with knowing yourself. If you're a naturally lazy person like me, I'm going to optimize technology to help me manage the time I spend managing my investments so it doesn't become tedious and eat up into time I can spend elsewhere instead of staring at a screen full of numbers. 

Another trick is to leverage off algorithmic trading. It's a godsend for people who know they are not going to have the time to decide on trade decisions all the time. As you can choose to automate your trades, it can also help those who tend to be too overly hands-on to have some form of discipline.

Knowing what type of a trader you might be, and what sort of behaviour you'll likely have, is a boon to deciding what sort of tools will be useful for you. And that is a huge plus point if you are trying to find your footing at the start of this journey.

The case against being your child's best friend

The case against being your child's best friend

There's always that one parent who picks their kid up from school oozing cool. They know all the latest slang and don't seem to have any issues "clicking" with their child. They are so close it seems like they are more best buddies than parent and child.

But parenting your children as though you both are equals may actually be a bad idea. Here are some reasons why:

Being equals with your children makes it hard to discipline them

The next time your best friend cancels dinner plans at the last minute, scold them about how irresponsible they are and send them to their room! Sounds bizarre? So does the "we're equals" approach to parenting your child. Friends don't nag at each other to do homework, or sleep early, or clean up their rooms.

One moment you're laughing at him complaining about his teacher, and the next moment you're telling him not to raise his voice at you. By acting like a buddy to your kids one moment, and then the next moment asking them to so something they don't want to do; it can lead to confusion for your kids, and worse, makes it difficult for you to feel grounded in your role as a parental figure too. 

Your children need to be friends with their own peers

It's healthy for your kids to build and foster relationships with other kids their own age. They need to bring friends home and have sleepovers, and share their hopes and dreams with each other. If they are looking to you as a best friend, there is a danger of you becoming a replacement for those relationships. 

A lot of time children become too clingy with their parents that they no longer need or want a group of friends. Constant attention from parents may result in future behavioural issues as the child is not equipped to deal with all that constant fawning and advice suddenly removed from them. You might be a stand-in at times, but in no way should that position be held for the long run.

Instead, encourage them to branch out and make more friends at school if they are naturally introverted and don't seem to have much friends other than yourself, or advise them on how to develop and maintain healthy friendships if they are more extroverted. Whatever their characteristics, it is crucial that they learn to sort out their issues with friends of their similar age.

Your children needs you to be an authority figure, not a buddy

Children need a strong role model who can tell them what's right and what's wrong. They need someone who can set clear boundaries for them, to teach them respect and discipline. This is not necessarily going to happen if you appear off-handed about all those teachings in your interactions with your kids because you are supposedly their buddies.

Just like how a dog needs a pack leader authority figure in its life to feel stable, it's pretty similar to how a child requires someone to look to to have the last word and make the tough decisions. It's actually reassuring to know that someone is creating the rules and implementing them.

This doesn't mean that you ignore your child's views or make decisions without considering their feelings at all. But when you parent as though you and your kids are best buddies, you will erode your own authority in the eyes of your children. And it will only lead to confusion and issues down the road. 

Your child is also not your friend

Some parents make the mistake of confiding to their children and sharing with them about how they feel about the neighbour, or their teacher, or that one colleague who constantly steals their food from the office fridge. And that just does not fit with the functional role of a parent. 

For example, if you think that your kid's tutor is being ridiculous for not letting your child eat sweets in the room, you can be your kid's "buddy" and say, "That's such a stupid rule! Your tutor is quite dumb ah, Ah Boy!". Or, you can fit with the functional role of a parent by saying, "I really hated that rule when I was your age and having tuition too! But I had to follow it, so Ah Boy, just eat your sweet when you are leaving the class, okay?" 

Even though both responses relate and empathizes with your child, one of them is making him a confidante, whereas the other is not. Guess which one is more ineffective by not promoting learning? 

It's a well-meaning trap when some parents think that their child would not think too much about it, or be affected by it. But surprise surprise, a child can feel like they are powerless and not much of a help to their beloved mum or superhero dad. And this is true, because a child is not emotionally or mentally prepared to play a role of confidante. 

So if you are forty years old, find another forty year old, or fifty year old, or thirty year old. But definitely not an eight year old, or fifteen year old.

6 food items that double as cleaning hacks for your room

6 food items that double as cleaning hacks for your room

Cleanliness is next to godliness. My interpretation of that used to mean that keeping your room clean is just as boring and un-fun as being a "holy holy" goody-two-shoes.

Over the years, however, I discovered that some food items double as both snacks as well as cleaning hacks to help keep things neat in my room without breaking a sweat, the bank, and my social life on the weekends too. 

Here are 6 food items to help in sorting out your room's mess (that you can easily find in the kitchen now).

1. Get rid of funky smells from your shoes and shoe cabinet with an onion

No mums had ever walked into their child's room and announce, "This place smells like crap, but I love how clean it is!"

Before you set out to tackle the mess, you need to first get rid of any odors. Your nose, personal hygiene, and anyone that has to live under the same roof as you on a daily basis will thank you.

As bizarre and counter-intuitive as it may sound since onions themselves are considered smelly food, they can actually help clear up bad odors by absorbing them. Just cut an onion in half and leave it in your shoe cabinet overnight. When the onion smell fades the following morning, so will all the other bad smells. 

2. Make your room smell super nice by dabbing baking extract on a light bulb

Scented candles are all the rage now in Singapore. The problem is that they create smoke, are a fire hazard if left unattended, and can be expensive as hell. 

One brilliant hack I discovered thanks to the World Wide Web is to dab a few drops of sweet-smelling baking extract like vanilla or cinnamon on the light bulb in my room. Do this when the light bulb is cold so you won't burn your finger, and when you switch the light on, the heat from the bulb will cause the extract to emit a scent to fill your entire room. 

If you don't want to use baking extract, this trick also works with your favourite perfume, cologne or your choice of essential oils too. 

3. Use alcohol to shine windows and wooden surfaces

Guess alcohol isn't just for getting yourself smashed, it's great for cleaning too. Add some cheap vodka into a spray bottle, spritz your windows and mirrors and wipe with a polishing cloth to make it shine. The alcohol properties acts against the glass surface to disinfect and prevent it from getting easily smudged or stained in future.

Similarly, add some beer into a spray bottle and squirt some against any wooden surface, before rubbing with a polishing cloth. The beer removes any dullness from over the years and adds a nice, shiny coat to your scruffy desk or ancient Ikea wardrobe. 

4. Use mayonnaise to polish your piano

This sounds absolutely crazy, but it's true. The first time I read this over the internet, my face was all like: 

I laughed for a good 20 seconds before I decided it's too good not to try it out. Plus, it doubles as a great story to share as Facebook content. (also, putting a look of horror on my mum's face added to the laughter)

Turns out the mayonnaise polishes the ivories of the piano keys way better than my previous expensive piano cleaner! The creaminess of the lather also prevented me from scuffing the keys while I was polishing them. I used to hate accidentally leaving tiny scratches all over my piano while cleaning it previously. 

And no, I know what you're thinking, but there was surprisingly no weird smell post-cleaning. So, for those of you who are struggling through piano lessons, this is a great way to enact some revenge on the piano for all the hours of practising you had to endure - by smearing it with some mayonnaise while still getting some shine out of it. 

5. Use baking soda to clean and shine jewellery

Especially in heat-drenched Singapore, the build-up of perspiration and humidity can dull your jewellery. Here's a simple hack to clean your necklaces, rings, and other 'bling-blings' without the need for any harsh chemicals.

Mix 2 tablespoonful of baking soda with one cup of hot water and let your jewellery sit in the solution for 10-15 minutes. Remove them and rinse, and slowly polish with a clean soft fibre cloth (a spectacle cloth is perfect) until they look brand new. 

6. Prevent your brightly coloured clothes from fading with black pepper

After constant wearing and never-ending trips to the washing machine, your favorite Cookie Monster t-shirt has gone from electric blue to a dulled out version of itself. We know you'll probably keep wearing it anyway (It’s a classic!), but did you know there's a super simple hack to keep those bright colours from succumbing to their faded fate?

You could pump the washing machine full of chemicals found in commercial detergents which also cost a ridiculous $9 and above, or you could Instead try shaking 1-2 teaspoonfuls of black pepper into your coloured laundry load.

Don’t worry about flakes of pepper dotting your clothes like black dandruff, the pepper will all wash out during the rinse cycle, preserving your colours for yet another trip to the rave. 

Are you a Tiger Parent?

Are you a Tiger Parent?

Child, if you are seeing this, I recommend that you scream for your dad/mum and get him/her to read this article RIGHT NOW. This can reduce your workload anywhere from 0 to 100%. Disclaimer: results are not guaranteed and if your parents scold you for trying to chicken out of doing homework, then too bad.

Hi parent.

I know what you are thinking right now. What is this article that my child wants me to see so desperately?

Well, this article is just a continuation of the Tiger Mom debate, started in 2011. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of it – even your child has. And I have just taken it upon myself to be the saviour of all overworked students in Singapore. So read on to see how I will change your mind (or maybe not, if you are the typical Asian parent who won’t admit you are wrong).

According to Amy Chua, the first widely recognised Tiger Mom – but definitely not the first to force their kids to sit at the piano for 4 hours straight, deny sleepover and boyfriend requests, and obsess over the number of As their child got at PSLE, O levels and A levels—there are a few reasons why Asian parents in general are so strict on their child.

1. You believe that academic achievement reflects successful parenting

Admit it. It was never about your child. It was always about you. Being a parent is a full-time job, and the number of As your child got is your only KPI.  Come CNY, all your relatives are waiting for your report, and if your child fails even one subject – gasp, hell no—you lose face. (Child, of course I am exaggerating here. But the next time you have a fight with your parents for not getting an A for Maths, this will make a good comeback to their I-am-increasing-the-number-of-your-tuition-classes-for-your-own-good talk).

2. You believe that nothing is fun until you are good at it

That’s why you spend hours drilling simple Maths concepts into your child, and send him to way too many tuition classes. To enjoy something, you have to be good at it. And to get good at anything, you have to put in the hard work. But is this really true? Your child sucks at DOTA – even you can see that—but no amount of expletives his friends throw at him can stop your child from having so much fun at his desk.

3. You are fortunate enough to be able to impose your standards on your kids

Unlike your poor western counterparts, you don’t have to struggle with your own conflicted feelings about how your child turned out fine despite being an unknown actress living together with her drug-dealer boyfriend because hey, she at least comes home once a year for Christmas. You are given permission by society to voice your disapproval. Calling your child out on laziness, unrealistic goals and promiscuity won’t have you labelled as a backward redneck who is out of step with mainstream society. But do watch how you speak your mind. Sometimes, the deepest wounds are invisible ones.

4. You genuinely believe in your child

Western parents think of their child as water balloons – too much pressure and they burst. You on the other hand, see your child as graphite. Under the right amount of pressure, he or she will turn into beautiful, shining beings who are resilient and sought after. (Again, this is an exaggeration, but hey, I am trying to make a point here.)

This transforms your parenting approach. You send your child to the best schools, because you know he or she will adapt to the environment and come out more confident and well versed from it. You push your child to take up different enrichment classes – piano, drawing, dance – because you know there are hidden talents in your child just waiting to be discovered. You scold your child for not getting an A on his Maths test because there is absolutely no way he won’t be getting an A. You know your child is too smart for that B. The only explanation must be that he is slacking off. And knowing that he is capable of so much, one of the worst things you can do for your child is to let him give up.

Never mind that a few decades back, you were bringing back the same horrible results that you are now scolding your child for…

Genetic mutation does occur, right?

Lost in a globalized world

Lost in a globalized world

“You wouldn’t care about books if you couldn’t read them, so why would you care about plant and animal species if you couldn’t understand them?”
— Dr. Dan Janzen

Although the above quote by biologist Dr. Janzen was focused on biology, he raises an interesting thought: How can we care about or understand something that we know very little about? 

If we apply this question to geography, then not having geo-literacy would mean that we are not able to fully care about or understand this world that we live in. How can we comprehend what is in it, how things are connected, or our place in it.

By not having geo-literacy, we cannot understand why a drought in Thailand will affect rice prices in Singapore, what the war in the Middle East has to do with oil prices in the US, or why China and Japan are constantly squabbling over a group of tiny islands. 

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What is geo-literacy?

The National Geographic Society defines geographic literacy as the basic understanding of how our world works that all members of modern society require. More specifically, it means being equipped to better understand the interconnectedness of this world and how our decisions on a daily basis can affect others. It doesn't only mean the decisions of prime ministers and presidents, but our decisions - like what food to eat and the things we buy. 

So, why do we need geo-literacy?

The purpose of geo-literacy is to empower people to make informed decisions in their everyday lives. This means being fully aware of what decisions we are making and what the effects of our decisions will be. As Singaporeans living in a first-world country, we make decisions daily that are more far-reaching than we realise. We are affecting more people than we know.

Our individual decision may appear small and insignificant, but if you multiply this by a few million people, the impact can be enormous. For example, you decide to buy a top from Forever 21 at a super great price of $9. But did you ever think about how they are able to make and sell their clothes so cheaply? Forever 21 sources its cotton from Uzbekistan factories, where millions of children are removed from schools by the government of Uzbekistan and forced to pick cotton during the harvest season. 

By choosing to boycott Forever 21 by shopping at H&M and Bershka instead, your individual decision may not seem like much, but multiply it by thousands of other students like yourself and it can make a huge impact.

This also means learning about geography.

Simply put, we have an obligation to be well-informed about our shrinking planet earth. Thanks to modern advances in technology, as well as rapid economic development, the world is becoming smaller and more interconnected - a phenomenon known as globalization.

This makes geo-literacy more important now than ever, and by understanding geography, we unlock the key to understanding interconnectedness in this world. All around the world, countries are beginning to understand the importance of geo-literacy and of having proper geography curriculum in their education system. We are lucky to have sound geographic education being taught in all Singapore schools. 

But ultimately, I guess it's up to us to take some initiative to get out there and explore. We live in an age where limitless knowledge is at our fingertips: we can walk virtually on the moon with Google Moon, watch documentaries on YouTube, and Google any question we have to have it answered in microseconds. Once we make the effort, the unknown can then become known.

And the known can therefore become real. 

The Pangolin: Critically Endangered

The Pangolin: Critically Endangered

Pangolins.

If you have seen one of these little scaly creatures on the bustling streets of Singapore, then know that first, you are incredibly lucky. These little critters are almost as rare as legendary Pokémons in the real world – definitely not like their in-game doppelganger Sandshrew. And second, you are still incredibly lucky. You just got the chance to appear in the headlines—if you call Acres, the Straits Times and stay for whatever lucky-passer-by-who-happened-to-chance-on-news-worthy-material do next.

Here are 7 interesting facts about pangolins (so that you don’t appear totally clueless about the animal that you just rescued when you appear on national TV).

1. Pangolins are the only mammals in the world with scales

Pangolins’ scales are made of keratin, the same material that our nails, rhino horns and bird talons are made of. The scales are very tough and can protect pangolins from predators—even lions are unable to bite through this armour of theirs.

2. Pangolins have poor eyesight

7 out of 8 species of pangolins are nocturnal and they have very small eyes relative to their body size. Their eyesight is so poor that pangolins simply locate ant hills and termite mounds with their sensitive sense of smell and hearing.

3. A pangolin’s tongue is really long and useful

The pangolin’s tongue is so long that it is anchored to the pelvic bone.

Pangolins use their tongue to collect insects – up to 70 million crawlies a year—which are then mashed up in their stomachs by stones, because pangolins do not have teeth.

4. Do not mess with a pangolin’s claws

Pangolins are able to dig through even concrete with their large, curved claws, and sometimes dig holes so big that even humans can stand in them.

4. Dating is tough

Pangolins are mostly solitary animals, have no defined mating season, and are so rare that if 2 pangolins of opposite sex meet each other, it must be divine appointment. And it doesn’t help that all that the male pangolin does is pee on its territory and hope that a female will one day find him. Has anyone ever told him that sitting around ain’t gonna get him his girl?

5. Pangolins are related to some of the fiercest predators you know

Scientists have changed their minds about the taxonomy of pangolins. It was previously believed that pangolins belong to the Xenarthra family, which makes them related to armadillos, sloths and anteaters. However, pangolins are now classified under the Carnivora family, which includes bears, wolves and hyenas.

6. Pangolins’ name has a Southeast Asian origin

Pangolins get their name from ‘penggulung,’ the Malay word for rolling up—the action a pangolin takes in self-defence. However, this escapist approach is apparently not working very well, seeing that Pangolins are one of the most vulnerable animals in the world.

7. Pangolins are in danger

That’s right, out of the 8 species of pangolins, 2 of them are critically endangered, which makes them even more endangered than giant pandas.

Pangolins are one of the most trafficked animals on the planet. Their scales are believed to have medicinal properties in traditional medicine, supposedly helping to reduce bleeding and helping lactating women to produce more milk, and their meat is considered a delicacy. On the black market, pangolin scales can fetch as high a price as $3,000 a kilogram.

Thankfully, commercial trade in Pangolin – even for traditional medicine—has been banned in many countries starting September 2016, unless proper permits are obtained.

To end off, here are some cute illustrations about pangolins. The original Chinese version can be found here.

Cool things you probably didn't know about Leap Years

Cool things you probably didn't know about Leap Years

A leap year occurs when a year has 366 days, instead of the usual 365.

In ancient Rome, the Romans used to follow a calendar that had 355 days in a year. This calendar eventually became out of sync with the seasonal changes and it made it difficult to celebrate festivals at the same time each year. They tried adding a 22 day month to every second year so as to keep festivals occurring around the same time period each year, but their Roman ruler, Julius Caesar, decided to make things simpler by adding days to different months of the year to create what we now know as the 365 days calendar.

To be specific, the actual length of a year is 365.242 days, not 365 days. Because of this, every 4 years (or years that can be divided by 4) will result in an extra day. This extra day will be added to the calendar as February 29th, and the year will become known as a leap year. 

Ever wondered why February is shorter than every other month? 

This is because of Augustus, the Roman ruler to come after Julius Caesar. The Roman government named the month of August after Augustus to honour him, but the month was only 30 days long. Julius Caesar's month of July had 31 days, and it wouldn't look good on Augustus to have a shorter month than Caesar! 

To make August as long as July, they borrowed a day from February. This permanently reduced February to only 29 days during a leap year, and for every other year - only 28 days.

The "extra day" problem

Having an extra day in February can be somewhat problematic. For example, if you are an employee being paid a monthly salary, you essentially are working an extra day for free during a leap year. But if you are being paid per hour, you literally have an extra payday.

There has also been cases of criminals convicted to prisons suing the government for "miscalculating" the length of their prison sentences because they had failed to consider the additional days they had to serve on account of the leap years. Good thing most, if not all, of the cases were thrown out of court as it is worth noting that the prison sentences go by number of years, regardless of how long or short each year may be. 

Similarly, I bet it sucks to be born on February 29. You only celebrate your birthday once every four years! Or you can use it as an excuse to throw the most lavish celebration ever since it occurs so rarely.

The leap year mother and daughter

On February 29, 2008, Michelle Birnbaum from New Jersey gave birth to her daughter, Rose. The coolest part about this story? Michelle herself was also born on February 29, making both mummy and baby both leap year babies! 

The odds of someone being born on February 29 are 1 in 1,641. However, the odds of both a mother and daughter sharing that same birthday of February 29 are 2 million to 1

That definitely makes it a birthday worth celebrating!

Why fractions is not as useless as you think

Why fractions is not as useless as you think

Many of my teaching friends agree that teaching fractions can be confusing and complex, and I'm sure that many of their students feel the same learning them as well.

The worst part is that if you are unable to grasp maths concepts such as fractions in the early stages of your education, they can go on to confuse you later on throughout your education and cause a great deal of math anxiety (not to mention a great deal of maths tuition too). Students need to intuitively understand these maths concepts instead of pure memorizing such as memorizing the timetable, as memorization doesn't lead to long-term understanding.

So, teachers and parents, how can you make fractions more fun?

Instead of relying on ancient techniques such as pie charts to teach fractions, nowadays there are online games to help students really grasp the concept of fractions through number lines or models.  

For instance, Brain Pop is a website that offers animated lessons, games, and even homework help, to make learning a whole lot more fun. Their Battleship Numberline game allows students to bomb a battleship using fractions between 0 and 1.

Other techniques for younger students include cutting up paper into thirds or sevenths to understand what denominators mean, and to see which fraction is bigger. 

By using number lines, it can help students to compare different fractions, which may be harder to do with pie charts. A pie is divided into pieces and it may become confusing as a pie divided into sixths can look very similar to a pie divided into sevenths. Number lines will also help in emphasizing how to compare fractions, before students go on to learn how to add, subtract, multiply and divide them.  

So, students, why should you learn fractions?

Singapore is routinely ranked at the top in global comparisons of mathematical ability, with the UK government announcing last year that half of England's primary schools will adopt the "Singapore model" of teaching maths. It may seem that as a nation, we keep raising the bar for students' math performances, but this is not without reason. 

Research have proven that by understanding fractions at an early age, it actually unlocks other educational achievements such as IQ development, reading skills, and of course, it acts as the foundation for more advanced maths and science skills like algebra, geometry, physics and chemistry.

While some of these higher level subjects seems only to be crucial if you are keen to pursue a career path in the science and technical industries, basic maths concepts like understanding fractions are crucial for everyone to master as it can improve your daily living skills too - such as sports, cooking, and best of all, being awesome in playing pool. 

He must have scored A1s in Maths his entire life. 

He must have scored A1s in Maths his entire life. 

How does GPS work?

How does GPS work?

The GPS, or Global Positioning System is a technical marvel. It's one of those things we don't think much about at all in our lives and probably take for granted. I bet there are still some people out there in this world who believes GoogleMaps is powered by the sheer magic of unicorns and moonbeams.

Even wondered what our lives would be like without GPS?

This. It would be like this. 

This. It would be like this. 

When was GPS technology created?

GPS was originally created by the United States Department of Defense in the early 1980s. But guess what? It was used as a military application and was never intended to be released to civilians. It was only in the late 1990s that the patent for GPS was released for commercial use. It has since become a multi-billion dollar industry with every smart phone having its own GPS tracking system inbuilt within. 

So how does GPS technology actually work?

There is a group of satellites currently orbiting earth with the sole purpose of transmitting precise signals to your GPS receivers. GPS receivers can be your phones or car tracking devices. These GPS receivers will convert use these signals to calculate and display your accurate location, speed, and time.

How do they convert it? Through the marvels of mathematics! 

GPS receivers use the mathematical principle of trilateration, which is the process of determining locations of points by measurement of distances using the geometry of circles, to pinpoint your exact location. All thanks to the power of computing, your GPS device is able to calculate and display the data within seconds. Which is why you don't need to wait half an hour before your GoogleMaps show you how to walk to that famous cafe you're trying to find. 

We'd pick a paper map over half an hour of waiting any day...

We'd pick a paper map over half an hour of waiting any day...

GPS receivers are usually accurate to within 15 metres, but the ones in your smart phones are generally accurate to 5 metres. One weakness of GPS is that its signal has trouble penetrating indoor spaces. This is why some GPS navigation gets lost once you enter a building as it's unable to capture enough position data from the signal through the structure walls.

GPS privacy concerns

Because your phone's mapping apps require an active GPS connection, there have been concerns raised about invasion of privacy through this active connection.

Personally, I think the threat is low, but if you are worried, you can switch off the location technology on your phone. If you are using an iPhone, go to Settings > Privacy > switch off Location Services. If you are using an Android phone, go to Settings > Location > Google Location Settings > Location Reporting and Location History > switch off both.

By doing this, you basically have no cause for concern about privacy issues, but it also means you won't be able to use all mapping apps. Another alternative is to go through the long list of apps in the Location Services screen and below 'Share My Location', you can choose to set your mapping apps to 'Always' and then set the other apps to 'Never'. This ensures you take control of which apps use your location data rather than switching all of them off. 

6 ways to increase your persuasive powers

6 ways to increase your persuasive powers

Not brute force but only persuasion and faith are the kings of this world.
— Thomas Carlyle

Persuasion is power. Almost everyday of our human lives and social interactions are made up of attempts to influence others to see things from our point of views. 

Persuasion is not a bad thing until it crosses the line into becoming manipulative and exploiting others into doing things against their will or that they are uncomfortable with. We're talking about persuasion that when put to good use can win over and inspire others.

Here are 6 ways we can learn from to increase our persuasive skills in today's competitive world. 

1. Reciprocity: Do unto others what you would have them do unto you.

We generally dislike feeling indebted to others. The principle of reciprocity states that people naturally feel obligated to pay back their debts. We feel the need to give back to those we have received favours from. 

A study done by Dr. Robert Cialdini found that by approaching people in public to answer surveys, asking people for

Interestingly, using norms of reciprocity to get what you need from people can often be more effective than using money. To support this statement, my field of work requires me to gather data informally by approaching people in public to answer surveys and I’ve often found that asking people “for a favor” to complete surveys is more effective than offering people $5 for their time to do the same surveys.

Reciprocal norms are thus extremely powerful as a means to persuade and influence people. Give first and the other party will most likely do the same. 

2. Certainty: Being assured by others feels good 

Uncertainty is a scary feeling. We don’t like feeling unsure of what to do. One way people reduce this feeling is to observe what other people are doing. There is a saying, "There is safety in numbers" - if you are doing what the majority of people around you are doing, you're less likely to be singled out and judged.

Imagine you are in a new country and unsure of where to have dinner at. You see that Restaurant A has a longer queue than Restaurant B. Most of us will be drawn to Restaurant A simply because we perceive it as have better food due to the long queue. 

How you can apply this to your life is when talking to someone you'd like to persuade, it helps to tell them what other like-minded people prefer, or to reassure them that their decision is the "right" one as other people have also done the same. You may find yourself having an easier time getting them to listen to you. 

3. Authority: Being assured by someone important feels even better

People have a tendency to obey authority figures. Somewhat similar to point number 2 above, when people receive recognition from someone important like an expert or respected leader, it becomes another way for them to validate their point of views so that others are more likely to listen to them.

When trying to persuade someone, it helps to engage the help of someone of authority to validate what you're trying to say. It could be a professor or expert in the topic that you're trying to pitch. I'm sure these people are more than willing to listen and offer some excellent advice most of the time.

This will give you a certain trustworthiness as you're basically "borrowing" their persuasiveness instead of just banking on your own. 

4. Consistency: People want to follow through

Humans have a deep-seated need to be seen (and validated) as consistent. Once we commit to something or someone, like making a promise or signing a contract, we’re likely to follow through on that commitment.

In the mid-1960s, psychologists Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser decided to explore the “foot-in-the-door” technique. This is a popular sales tactic where you start off by asking the customer to fulfil a small request that's usually very easy to agree to. Once that has been fulfilled, it is usually easier for the customer to agree to a larger request later on. 

The psychologists asked some homeowners if they would agree to place a large signboard on their front lawn stating "Drive Carefully". Only 17% of the people they asked agreed to it. However, another group of homeowners were first asked if they were willing to stick a small sticker on their window that reads, “Be a safe driver” (which almost 100% agreed to). Then, two weeks later, they asked the homeowners whether they can place the large "Drive Carefully" signboard on their lawn. A whopping 76% of this second group agreed! 

What does this tell us? 

The “foot-in-the-door” technique exploits our fundamental human need to be consistent. This consistency effect is stronger when the promise is made publicly or in writing, because now there are consequences to breaking that promise. You can apply this technique personally when persuading someone by requesting for a small favour and then slowly building it up to a bigger one.

5. Scarcity: Supply and demand

Scarcity is defined as the image of certain things becoming more attractive when people think that there is limited availability. The harder it is to get something, the more valuable it gets. 

People often use scarcity to gauge whether something is valuable and worth their time. This is why you hear about Singaporeans queuing for over 7 hours for Hello Kitty charms simply because they exist in limited quantities. FOMO! - Fear Of Missing Out. Humans hate the idea that they are missing out. Of course, I prefer the local term 'kiasu'.

How you can apply this in your life is to be strategic about advertising your availability. Emphasise the scarcity of your time to inflict urgency to others. It may just help you to persuade others to listen to you better due to your high demand. 

6. Likeabilty: The more you like someone, the more you'll listen to them

This one is a tough nut to crack. Obviously, we can't expect every single person to like us. But the principle behind this technique is to focus on making yourself likable and work to cultivate a positive image of yourself. It doesn't mean to flatter other unnecessarily or to become fake about it. 

There are many ways you can compliment someone sincerely, such as thanking them for playing their part in the group project, congratulating them for an accomplishment, or even on an outfit which you find stylish. We’re attracted to people who make us feel good about ourselves and most importantly, if they are willing to co-operate with us. 

Ever had someone you don't particularly like in the same group as you are? As long as you know that person is willing to cooperate and contribute his part in the group project, it can make you appreciate him more as you get to know him better. Take the perspective of the other side by working to find a common ground and signal a willingness to work together. 

That may work wonders in making you a genuinely likeable person.

Your passport is more ancient than you think

Your passport is more ancient than you think

Every time you go on an overseas trip with your family, something happens at airport so frequently that you may not even think much of it - a tedious passport examination.

It doesn't just happen once too, along the way at various checkpoints, airport security will ask to see your passport. It seems like this is just another modern form of security, but did you know that the idea of a passport is surprisingly ancient?

It was even mentioned in the Bible. And that book is pretty old. 

The first so-called passport ever mentioned

In the chapter of Nehemiah in the Bible, there is a passage that goes like this: 

I also said to him, “If it pleases the king, may I have letters to the governors of Trans-Euphrates, so that they will provide me safe-conduct until I arrive in Judah? And may I have a letter to Asaph, keeper of the royal park, so he will give me timber to make beams for the gates of the citadel by the temple and for the city wall and for the residence I will occupy?” And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests. So I went to the governors of Trans-Euphrates and gave them the king’s letters.

 Those letters mentioned were a form of travel papers required so the author can have safe passages through foreign lands. Not unlike the current function of a passport. 

Passport didn't start out as paper booklets too

Centuries later, the Mongols would issue one of the earliest passports in the form iron medallions. Under Genghis Khan's rule, intricately engraved metal plaques called paizi were handed out to foreigners travelling on state business in Mongol territory. They symbolised that these people were under the Khan's protection and were to pass through without harm. 

A bronze  paizi  currently displayed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

A bronze paizi currently displayed in The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The words engraved on the face of the paizi says, “By the strength of Eternal Heaven, an edict of the Emperor. He who has no respect shall be guilty.”

The coolest kind of passport photo

But it was only until 1641 that we see the first signs of the type of paper passports in the booklet-form we know today in Britain. The oldest British passports went through a weird phase where they were written in French, as French was considered the more diplomatic language during that time. It was changed to English in the 18th century.

Those early passports also had no rules on what kind of photos you used. Some people posed with their entire families, and some even with their pets! That would have been way better than our current boring tight-lipped smile pose against a white backdrop, don't you think?

It wasn't until the 1914, during World War 1, that we see the now-familiar format of paper booklet with single portrait photo and the widely used rubber stamp to signify approved access into a country.

Even so, when it was first suggested that physical details such as age (and height for the British passports) should be added, the British foreign secretary considered the idea degrading and offensive. Good thing our Singapore passports don't make us state our height, weight or favourite unhealthy snack to binge on late at night.  

Something's changing very rapidly in the Arctic...

Something's changing very rapidly in the Arctic...

When we hear the word 'Arctic', we often conjure images of a stark white, windswept place where it is forever winter. But the truth is, winter is thawing sooner than expected as the Arctic regions have been experiencing global warming more drastically than almost anywhere else on Earth.

Thawing Ice

As the majority of the Arctic is comprised of sea water from the Arctic Ocean, rising temperatures means sea ice all over the area have been melting dramatically. This causes water levels to increase faster than expected, and decreasing the total land mass of the Arctic.

"Welp. No more home."

"Welp. No more home."

2016 is lining up to win the dubious award of lowest recorded winter ice ever. If the trend continues, in a couple of decades summer heat will melt all of the Arctic sea ice. To make matters worse, something is currently at play called Arctic Amplification.

Arctic Amplification occurs when ice reflects about 90% of the sunlight it receives. But when that ice is absent as it has already melted away, the darker waters reflect only 10% of sunlight. As a result, the absorbed sunlight warms up water faster, melting yet more ice, and causing a vicious cycle. 

Thawing Land, too

The physical consequences of global warming in the Arctic are not only limited to ice. Thawing land can result in severe erosion, as the ground is not able to stay frozen and ends up shifting. Villages and roads are all routinely damaged by erosion, making it dangerous for trucks carrying fuel and food to travel across the land to make deliveries. 

Millions of dollars have already been spent, and many millions more will be needed in order to build protective reinforcements for natives Alaskan communities. For some of them, uprooting the entire village and relocating is the only option. 

Animals of the Arctic

However, one of the most damaging threats of global warming is the loss of habitat for the wildlife of the Arctic.

Polar bears rely on sea ice to travel and hunt seal, their main prey. Shrinking of ice have made it more difficult for the bears to survive and many die of starvation or even drowning. Other marine mammals, like the walrus and leopard seals need the ice as a resting platform used between bouts of feeding. Many of the younger mammals end up drowning due to having no place to rest while out in the ocean.

The Arctic fox lives in the coastal areas along the Arctic Ocean. It is threatened by the changing ice patterns, as well as having fewer carnivores, like the polar bears, to scavenge half-eaten prey from.

What Can We Do?

It's tempting to bury your face in your hands and just hope that somehow everything will work out in the end. But it won't if we don't step up and fight back however we can. The best action we can take to slow down the pace of global warming is to recycle all the paper, plastic, glass and aluminium you use.

Have a separate bin at home to throw these items in, and once a week, bring them down to the recycling bin. There's no excuse as every HDB blocks has a recycling bin since 2014. You can check the ones nearest to your home here.  

By recycling, you are helping to lowers pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, which leads to improving air and water quality, as well as to preserve landfill space. Remember, change begins with you.

5 YouTube channels to learn all about robotics

5 YouTube channels to learn all about robotics

YouTube channels seem to be the new teachers. Whether learning to play the guitar, picking up yarn spinning, or parkour -- it's becoming one of the top source for self-learning over the years.

It's hard to believe that the website was once considered a platform merely for entertainment and funny cat videos. Today, it's playing a huge role as an online learning portal.

Today, we've selected 5 YouTube channels that can help you pick up basic robot programming and engineering: 

1. Robot Programming: Let's Learn Python

The learning curve of picking up programming skills differs from person to person. However, here are some YouTube channels that can help you get started on the fundamentals in robots programming.

Firstly, you need to pick up basic knowledge in Python. Python is a widely used programming language for general-purpose programming, and it's what most of the subsequent tutorials will expect you to already know as they dive into how to program robots. 

Let's Learn Python is a great place to start if you're a total beginner in Python scripting/programming. The instructor walks you through a bit of programming theory, followed by some of the basics for variable creation and math functions used in Python. 

2. Robot Programming: Raspberry Pi Robotics Series

After you have a basic understanding of Python, this YouTube channel can help you delve deeper into programming using Python specifically for robotics. As it's geared towards those who have no prior knowledge of programming whatsoever, it introduces basic logic behind programming in a step-by-step manner and follow through with teaching you how you can use it to build a robot.

But what I found cool about Raspberry Pi is that it also discusses how programming can be connected to actual electronic components. By the end of the series, you may be able to create your own password-enabled door, and of course, your very own simple robot.

3. Robot Engineering: Introduction to Robotics and Electronics

Once you feel yourself savvy enough in robotic programming, it makes sense to learn more about the physical side of robotics, such dealing with the electronics and engineering of a working robot. 

Introduction to Robotics and Electronics is a 19-videos long playlist that aims to introduce people to robotics and electronics. The instructor, Bucky Roberts, gives great information on basic robot engineering skills such as testing voltages, building a circuit, resistors, batteries, and other technical terms that you will need when building a robot.

4. Robot Engineering: Botyard

Once you've picked up the fundamentals of electronics and want to just jump right into building a robot, then Botyard’s 5-part video series is perfect for you.

The most interesting thing about Botyard is that it's dedicated to showing you how to create an actual robot. A lot less talking about theory, and straight jumping into using recycled items like flashlights, LED lights, servos, and other easy-to-find items to build your very own R2-D2! 

5. Robot Engineering: Introduction to Robotics by Stanford

If the previous channels are considered chicken feet to you, perhaps this series of lectures on Robotics by a Stanford university professor might be more up your alley.

Advanced concepts like trajectory generation, motion planning, inverse and forward kinematics, and force and position control will be discussed. By showcasing a more traditional, theoretical approach to learning robotics, these video tutorials are particularly useful if you want to build more advanced-level robots or even consider going into the industry as a future career path.

10 books to read if you loved 'Harry Potter'

10 books to read if you loved 'Harry Potter'

Whether you grew up eagerly awaiting the next book of the Harry Potter series to be released, or have recently just discovered them after watching the movies, it seems impossible to think of any other books that can compare to the magic that author, J.K. Rowling has brought to us. 

But if you looked hard enough, there are other books out there that contain the same elements of friendship, magic, and adventure. Well, you don't have to look hard at all, as here's a list of 10 books that are just as magical as the Harry Potter series, and they can all be borrowed from libraries in Singapore:

1. The Magicians, Lev Grossman

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What is it about: Quentin Coldwater is a student who applied for a prestigious college in New York, only to find out that it's an exclusive school of magic. He and his friends travel in pursuit of finding a magical land, but when fellow students in the college starts getting murdered by an unknown entity, what they actually find is more than what they bargained for. The Magicians is the first book in a trilogy, with the other two being The Magician King, and The Magician's Land.  

Available at these libraries

2. Percy Jackson - The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan

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What is it about: Percy Jackson is a young boy who faces several strange, supernatural encounters, only to discover that he is actually the son of Poseidon. If you like mythology, then this is definitely the series for you. From Greek Gods, to monsters like Medusa, the Percy Jackson series is an adrenaline-filled ride from start to end. I personally like that it features strong female characters as well. *cough*Hermione for the win*cough* 

Available at these libraries

3. Shadow and Bone, Leigh Bardugo

What is it about: Shadow and Bone is the first book in what is also known as The Grisha Trilogy. A bit darker than Harry Potter was, the trilogy follows Alina Starkov, a teenage orphan whose entire life was transformed after unexpectedly harnessing a power she never knew she had to save her best friend. Bonus: there’s an excellent school for magic in here too!

Available at these libraries

4. The Golden Compass (His Dark Materials), Philip Pullman

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What is it about: Set in an alternate universe where part of everyone's soul lives outside a person as an animal companion, The Golden Compass tells the story of a young girl named Lyra journeying on an epic quest to find her kidnapped friend and being embroiled into a cosmic war over a mysterious floating city carrying the secrets of “Dust”. It's a dark and intriguing world, and as the story unfolds, we see Lyra overcoming great obstacles and growing into a strong, confident woman.

Available at these libraries

5. The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

What is it about: The book starts with the young life of Kvothe as a young adult in the University where he learns many skills and magical prowess while seeking vengeance against the evil beings who killed his family - the Chandrian - whose appearance are supposedly heralded by flames turning blue. As the story progress, it also cuts back to the "present day" where Kvothe is now an adult. It's easy to get invested in the characters of the books and their moral decisions. There are talks of a third book being released soon!

Available at these libraries

6. Inkheart, Cornelia Funke

What is it about: A 12-year-old girl named Meggie learns that her father can bring fictional characters to life. One night while reading a book called Inkheart, an evil ruler escapes and abducts them both. Meggie must learn to harness the magic that caused this nightmare so she can change the course of the story. It's beautiful and weird, but the adventure and a cool family dynamic makes up for it. 

Available at these libraries

7. Graceling, Kristin Cashore

What is it about: Katsa, a strong yet vulnerable teenage girl, lives in a society where people are given a Grace, which is a sort of special talent. Katsa’s special talent is..... killing, and she is forced to use her skills to do her uncle’s dirty work. But Katsa goes in search of a way to put her talents to good use. If you are missing magic and strong female protagonists, like Hermione, Professor McGonagall, or Luna, Graceling is the story for you.

Available at these libraries

8. The Amulet of Samarkand, Jonathan Stroud

What is it about: In the first book of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, we are introduced to Nathaniel, a magician in training, who is sold to the government at a young age and forced to live as an apprentice. When Nathaniel is humiliated by ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his master, he vows revenge. Nathaniel summons 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Simon by stealing the Amulet of Samarkand, but he ends up setting himself on a journey filled with danger and threats. 

Available at these libraries

9. Neverwhere, Neil Gaiman

What is it about: Richard Mayhew, an ordinary businessman with a good heart, stops to help a mysterious, bleeding girl on a pavement and his world is forever changed. He falls through the cracks of the pavement and lands under the streets of London, a city filled with monsters, angels, murderers and more. Neil Gaiman is a master at creating an immersive world with relatable characters, all the while being funny, dark, and action-packed. Richard come into his role as a hero just like Harry does — stumbling and fumbling all the way.

Available at these libraries

10. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, Ransom Riggs

What is it about: We recommended the movie when it was released last year. It basically contains all plot points a Harry Potter enthusiast loves: a band of children with fantastic powers saving the world, mentors who turn into animals, sly time travel and other sorts of transportation, the idea that you could grow up as usual and become unusual, young love, etc. But the author, Ransom Riggs, takes a whole lot more twists and turns in his series. Did we mention that he also includes real historical pictures into his books? Very engrossing.

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The Crow and The Peacock

The Crow and The Peacock

There once was a crow who lived in the forest. He had been absolutely satisfied in life, until one day, he saw a swan. “This swan is so white,” he thought, “and I am so black. This swan must be the happiest bird in the world.”

Day after day, the crow would fly to look at the swan. He was so bothered by his thoughts, that one day he expressed his thoughts to the swan. “Actually...” the swan replied, “I was feeling that I was the happiest bird around until I saw the parrot, which has two colours. I now think the parrot is the happiest bird in all of creation.”

The crow then approached the parrot. The parrot explained, “I was feeling that I was the happiest bird around until I saw the peacock. I have only two colours, but the peacock has multiple colours.”

The crow then visited a peacock in the zoo and saw that hundreds of people had gathered to see her. After the crowd had left, the crow approached the peacock. “Dear peacock,” the crow said, “you are so beautiful. Every day thousands of people come to see you. When people see me, they immediately shoo me away. I think you are the happiest bird on the planet.”

The peacock replied, “I always thought that I was the happiest bird on the planet. But because of my beauty, I am entrapped in this zoo. Everyday I look around me, and I have realized that the crow is the only bird that's not kept in a cage. My friend, looking at you, I have been thinking that with your freedom you are the happiest bird in the world."

Isn't that our problem too? We constantly make unnecessary comparisons with the people around us. He has nicer shoes... She is prettier than me... Their family gets to travel overseas so frequently... These comparisons lead to a vicious cycle of unhappiness, and we slowly lose sight of what has been given us. 

Learn to be happy with what you have been blessed with instead of looking at what you don’t have. There will always be someone who will have more or less than you. Not to say that we do not strive to achieve our wants and desires, but happiness is when we are satisfied with what we have in life without being bitter about what we do not have yet. 

5 of the worst faults a leader can have

5 of the worst faults a leader can have

Leaders should lead as far as they can and then vanish. Their ashes should not choke the fire they have lit.
— H. G. Wells

Most of us, if not all, will have the opportunity to be in a position of leadership. Whether in the classroom, your CCA, in National Service for the guys, or in the workplace in future.

by definition, a leader is one because he/she has followers. If you find yourself in a leadership position yet are not listening to and working on behalf of your followers, then you can't possibly call yourself a leader.

There is no such thing as a perfect leader. Extraordinary leaders are not born, but made. Which is why good leaders are conscious about improving themselves - through self-refection, investing time in others, and figuring out how to get the most out of everyone around them. It's hard to pinpoint what makes a good leader, but here are 5 things we can be sure that good leaders do not have:

1. Being egocentric

Simply holding a leadership title doesn’t automatically make one a leader, and one of the worst faults a leader can have is too much ego, pride and arrogance. People in leadership positions must accept that it's not all about them and remember that, while they may set the overall tone and direction, they are not necessarily the most important person there.

If a leader doesn’t understand the concept of “service above self”, they will not inspire the trust, confidence, and loyalty of those they lead. A true leader is most concerned with the well-being of their people, investing time in truly understanding their needs and giving value to their opinions.  

2. Being bad at communicating

Great leaders can communicate effectively. They not only speak well, but they listen actively, think fluidly, and knows when to dial it up, down, or off. When leaders are able to describe what they want done in a clear and succinct way, it helps their followers prioritise what they need to do effectively. For example, if the general cannot express where he wants his troops to travel to next, the entire army is confused and thrown into chaos. 

This being said, having good communication skills is more than just directing others to follow you - it's also about maintaining healthy relationships and developing the ability to encourage your people to envision the same goals as you. Your role is to paint the bigger picture so that your followers understands your vision and what is expected of them. In an office environment, this is illustrated best when seeing the CEO of the company making it a point to talk to staff on a regular basis. By cultivating healthy lines of communication, it will result in creating a more positive and productive environment.

3. Being a micromanager

Have you ever had a designated project leader delegate the various roles of a group project but end up breathing down each of your necks to check up on your work? Didn't it make you feel annoyed, as well as not feeling empowered to get your part done?

One of the most common mistakes a leader makes is to keep focusing on what they're good at and what has been proven to work in the past. If you cannot let go of your desire to be an effective "doer", this prevents you from having your eye on the bigger picture, as you will be busy trying to make sure everyone else is doing a good job. This is also known as micromanaging others.

Micromanagers can produce good results, but they alienate their followers along the way. One way to avoid this is for leaders to make conscious efforts to share their goals and the intent of actions with their teams so they understand the direction to move in together. An effective team should act like a school of fish, individuals moving in the same direction while giving each other the space required to perform their tasks. 

4. Practicing favouritism

I remembered when I was a prefect in secondary school. Whenever there was a surprise spot-check, I would be the one helping my friends to hide their contraband items because the teachers wouldn't check the prefects.  

This made me look good in the eyes of my friends, but I'm sure my other classmates hated me for that. When someone in a leadership position singles out individuals to play favourites with, it can be one of the most damaging problems as there is no chance to build a culture of trust. If trust is low, people instinctively assume the worst intent rather than the best intent. This is extremely divisive, and worse, it might start to pit peers in the same team against each other. 

And good leaders will not allow that to happen. 

5. Lacking in commitment

During World War II, Captain Henry "Jim" Crowe of the United States Marine Corps said the following words to his troops: "You'll never get the Purple Heart hiding in a foxhole! Follow me!" The Purple Heart is one of the highest order that a soldier can be awarded, and is usually awarded for extreme bravery and honour.

When Captain Crowe made that statement, it was more than just an order. it was his action of not showing fear, and leading by example by being in the front lines fighting alongside them, that motivated his men. If a leader expects his or her team to work hard and produce quality results, they're going to need to be down in the trenches working alongside everyone else.

There is no greater motivation than seeing the person in-charge prove that hard work is done on every level. Showing commitment to the cause will not only earn respect among your followers, but instil a passionate energy within them as well. If you've pledged something, keep your word. You want to create a reputation for not just working hard, but also be known as a fair leader. The best leaders build into their team, support their team, and genuinely care for their team. 

The Tale of a Male Angler Fish

The Tale of a Male Angler Fish

Fyse remembers better days. Days marked by a wide expanse overhead. Sometimes that expanse was an iridescent blue, other times a fathomless black. Occasionally an ominous grey, and frequently a palette of pink, orange and purple.

When did that expanse disappear? Fyse doesn’t remember. All he remembers is migrating downwards with his school of brothers and sisters. Why, you ask? Fyse also doesn’t know. He did what his school did. And the school migrated downwards. And the further down he went, the more blur that expanse got, until eventually, it totally disappeared from his sight. What was left was darkness all around him. The only way to tell which way was up, which way was down, was the pressure. Down was the way with more pressure – pressure that constricted his chest and made it difficult to breathe. Down was the way where the blackness got even blacker. Down was the way in which everyone went.

Perhaps it was the environment that he was in; perhaps it was just part of growing up, but as he journeyed downwards, darkness slowly crept into Fyse’s heart. He realised he wasn’t as big as the other half of his school. And as the days went by and puberty dragged on, the difference became more marked. Where he had comically huge nostrils and large doe-like eyes, others had enormous jaws complete with needle sharp teeth and a bioluminescent lure dangling from their foreheads. While he was trapped inside a small weak body that struggled to even keep up with the rest, others had large strong bodies capable of capturing and devouring prey that ranged from his size to many times his size.

Eventually, the cold hard truth set in. Fyse could try all he wants, but there were just some things that he could not change. And one of them was the fact that he was a male angler fish. Unlike his female counterparts, he was destined to remain a small weak creature, one that was almost incapable of capturing any prey to keep himself from starving. And his school of brothers and sisters? They did not help. The males did not have the capacity – they were just as weak. The females could not be bothered to help – survival of the fittest dictated that those who could not help themselves should just die.

But should all the males starve to death, angler fishes would completely disappear from the face of this earth. Maybe nature did not want that to happen, for it provided a way. A way for Fyse and his brothers to live on. There was just a price to pay.

By now, Fyse was all alone; his school had dispersed in search of better fortunes in the vast black sea. He was also on the edge of severe starvation, having not eaten in 3 days. Even a morsel was hard to find near the bottom of the sea. Just when everything seemed bleak – or at least bleaker than his already bleak surroundings – Fyse smelt a heavenly scent. A scent that promised security and sustenance. A scent that was within reach. With all his remaining strength, Fyse swam towards the source of that smell. As he was about to sink his teeth into that source, he had a nagging feeling that this was a decision that would change his life. But into that source his teeth still went. And by drawing blood, his strength came back. But at the same time, he started fusing into this source at an insidious speed.

Perhaps he could tear away – and in doing so, lose a portion of his body – but the ability to feed his fill was so precious that Fyse did not even put up a fight. He simply allowed nature to take its course. At the back of his mind, he knew that eventually all that would be left of him were a pair of gills for breathing, and a pair of sperm-producing gonads to sire the next generation.

In one of his rare lucid moments, Fyse remembered better days. Days marked by a wide expanse overhead. Sometimes that expanse was an iridescent blue, other times a fathomless black. Occasionally an ominous grey, and frequently a palette of pink, orange and purple. But one thing was certain. At that time, his future contained as many possibilities as there were colours in the sky.

Now as he lay here, slowly fading into oblivion, Fyse understood where he had gone wrong. Going with the flow does not mean you are heading in the right direction when the direction you want your life to head in is up, not down. But the realisation might have come too late, for Fyse ultimately gave in to the oblivion.

Writer’s thoughts: This story is inspired by the stranger-than-fiction way that a male angler fish uses to survive. To read more about male angler fishes, click here

Disclaimer: No one knows whether male angler fishes still retain their sense of self when they fuse with female angler fishes, but I thought I would take a bit of liberty with this, just to end the story on a sad note, haha.